Human Rights Watch (HRW)


Human Rights Watch is a powerful NGO, with a massive budget, close links to Western governments, and significant influence in international institutions. Its publications reflect the absence of professional standards, research methodologies, and military and legal expertise, as well as a deep-seated ideological bias against Israel.


Country/TerritoryUnited States
Founded1978 as Helsinki Watch
RegistrationBased in New York, headed by Kenneth Roth (Executive Director since 1993)



  • Systematic NGO Monitor analyses demonstrate that HRW disproportionately focuses on condemnations of Israel and that publications related to Israel often lack credibility. HRW also promotes an agenda based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli aggression.
  • Uses distorted legal rhetoric to repeatedly accuses Israel of “war crimes,” “[s]erious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” “collective punishment,” and fostering a “culture of impunity.” Applies unique standards to Israel as part of its broader delegitimization campaign.
  • Promotes a Palestinian “right of return,” which, if implemented, would effectually mean the elimination of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
  • Lobbies the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and other international frameworks, promoting false, distorted, and unverifiable allegations against Israel. Played a major role in the creation of the eventually discredited Goldstone report, submitting numerous statements to the commission equating Israel to Hamas and falsely accusing Israel of “willfully” killing civilians.
  • In December 2021, HRW condemned the decision by the Israeli Ministry to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations. According to HRW Israel/Palestine Director Omar Shakir, “These six organizations not only represent the best of Palestinian civil society, they represent the best of global civil society. They have long been models to countries across the globe. They include people that serve on our boards, our closest partners, our closest allies…an attack against them is an attack against each of us.” Shakir further called for the global community to “impose countermeasures” against Israel.
  • In August 2021, HRW published a report on the May 2021 Gaza conflict alleging that Israeli actions “violated the laws of war and may amount to war crimes.” HRW’s “analysis” relied heavily on eyewitness testimony and baseless legal standards. Moreover, HRW lamented that it does not have “the evidence” that the “Israeli military … says it relied on to carry out these attacks,” and therefore cannot possibly comment meaningfully on the incidents. (Read NGO Monitor’s analysis “HRW Does Not and Cannot Know Details of Gaza Airstrikes: Pseudo-reports as Propaganda.”)
  • In January 2021, HRW published a press release calling for Israel to “provide Covid-19 vaccines to the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.” According to HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, “Nothing can justify today’s reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian…The virus does not discriminate in who it infects, but the government of Israel discriminates in who it chooses to inoculate against it.”
    • HRW falsely claimed that Israel has legal obligations to ensure that vaccines be provided to Palestinians, while altogether ignoring that Palestinians residing in Jerusalem are part of the Israeli health care system; that under the Oslo Accords the PA is responsible for health care of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; and that the PA had adopted its own vaccine policy for its population.
  • In December 2019, HRW published a report titled “Born Without Civil Rights” that accused Israel of “draconian military orders” and relying “on broad provisions of military law to ban associations as ‘hostile organizations’.” The report misleadingly truncates quotes and withholds vital information, including whitewashing terrorism. The primary examples are individuals who are members of internationally recognized terrorist organizations and/or groups closely linked to these organizations and who have been convicted of incitement, terror financing, and membership in terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
  • In March 2019, during the violence on the Gaza border, Research Assistant Abier Almasri stated that Israel “ repeatedly fired on protesters who posed no imminent threat to life, pursuant to expansive open-fire orders from senior officials that contravene international human rights law standards, acts that may amount to war crimes.” Almasri ignored the violent nature of the protests, which have consisted of an organized armed attack on the Israeli border and IDF positions, attempts to destroy and breach the border fence, and sustained arson, rocket, and mortar attacks on Israeli civilian communities.
  • On June 30, 2017, Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine Director, spoke at the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) “Forum to Mark Fifty Years of Occupation,” stating that Israel “has effectively turned Gaza into an open air prison.”

Apartheid Rhetoric


  • HRW has been a leading proponent of an ICC investigation targeting Israel. It has promoted this agenda by pushing the PA to ascend to the ICClobbying the ICC prosecutor, and publishing reports with spurious argumentsalleging Israeli violations of international law.
  • In March 2021, following the Court’s decision to launch a formal investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the “State of Palestine,” Executive Director Ken Roth tweeted, “The International Criminal Court wouldn’t need to investigate Israeli and Palestinian war crimes if Israeli and Palestinian authorities had been prosecuting their own war criminals. They haven’t been. At all.”

BDS Activities

  • HRW has lobbied intensively in support of the discriminatory UN database of businesses operating across the 1949 Armistice line, aimed at bolstering BDS campaigns against Israel. HRW has signed multiple letters to the UN calling for the database to be implemented without further delay.
  • In December 2018, HRW, in cooperation with Israeli NGO Kerem Navot, published a report titled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements” that was the culmination of a two-year long coordinated and well-financed BDS campaign targeting Airbnb (and The report contained numerous false claims regarding the legal and human rights responsibility of Airbnb in allowing Israelis from the West Bank to list their properties, as well as questionable methodology.
  • On June 13, 2018, HRW issued a press statement accusing Israel of “apparent war crimes in Gaza” during the Great March of Return. The statement demanded that “Third countries should impose targeted sanctions” against senior Israeli officials (emphasis added).
  • On September 12, 2017, HRW published a report on “Israeli Law and Banking in West Bank Settlements,” calling for banks “to comply with their own human rights responsibilities by ceasing settlement-related activities,” as by “providing services to and in settlements, which are illegal under international humanitarian law (IHL), and partnering with developers in new construction projects, Israeli banks are making existing settlements more sustainable, enabling the expansion of their built-up area and the take-over of Palestinian land, and furthering the de facto annexation of the territory.”
  • In 2016, HRW initiated a failed public campaign with alongside Palestinian efforts, calling on FIFA to take punitive measures against Israel and “require the IFA to stop holding games inside the settlements and to stop allowing fields and halls in the settlements to be used for official competitions.” The campaign included multiple articles, extensive social media posts, and lobbying of the UN.
  • On January 19, 2016, published “Occupation Inc.” a 162-page report calling for businesses to cease operations in Israeli West Bank settlements, constituting a de-facto call for a boycott of Israel. Coinciding with HRW’s publication, Kathleen Peratis, co-chair of HRW’s Middle East North Africa Advisory Committee and emerita Board of Trustees member, penned a pro-BDS article in Ha’aretz.

Criticism from Founder

  • Due to the organization’s failures, founder Robert Bernstein published an article in the New York Times (“Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast,” October 19, 2009) strongly criticizing the organization for ignoring severe human rights violations in closed societies, for its anti-Israel bias, and for “issuing reports…that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
  • Bernstein expanded on these ideas in a lecture at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (November 2010), noting, “Human Rights Watch’s attacks on almost every issue [have] become more and more hostile [toward Israel].”

Key Staff

  • Many HRW officials, including those working on Israel, have a history of ideological bias:
  • Ken Roth
    • During the 2014 Gaza War, director Ken Roth obsessively tweeted about the conflict. Roth’s tweets were characterized by significant levels of sarcasm, vitriol, and deep-seated hostility toward Israel.
    • In July 2006, in responding to a critique of HRW’s reporting of the Lebanon War, Roth stated: “An eye for an eye – or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye – may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law…”  The New York Sun decried this statement as a “slur on the Jewish religion itself that is breathtaking in its ignorance… To suggest that Judaism is a ‘primitive’ religion incompatible with contemporary morality is to engage in supersessionism, the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much antisemitism.”
  • Omar Shakir
    • In October 2016, HRW hired Omar Shakir to serve as its “Israel and Palestine Country Director.” Shakir is a consistent supporter of a one-state framework and advocate for BDS campaigns against Israel. In February 2017, Shakir was denied a work visa by the Israeli government, but was ultimately allowed into Israel in April 2017. In May 2018, due to Shakir’s BDS ties, the Israeli Ministry of Interior chose not to renew his work visa. HRW and Shakir have been challenging this decision in Israeli courts.
    • On November 5, 2019, the Israeli High Court rejected Shakir’s appeal and upheld the ruling of the Lower Court that his work visa would not be renewed. On November 24, 2019, Shakir left Israel.
  • Sarah Leah Whitson
    • Whitson served as Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division in 2004-2019.
    • In 2009, Sarah Leah Whitson visited Libya, claiming to have discovered a “Tripoli spring.” She praised Muammar Qaddafi’s son Seif Islam as a leading reformer and for creating an “expanded space for discussion and debate.”
    • In January 2020, law professor Eugene Kontorovich published an op-ed revealing the hypocrisy of Whitson, as she is an active supporter of groups that support Armenian settlements in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, while simultaneously pursuing campaigns against Jewish communities in the West Bank.
    • Whitson published a 2011 op-ed on The Huffington Post, “A Matter of Civil Rights,” abusing the legacy of the US Civil Rights Movement to single-out and advance hatred towards Israel. In the op-ed, Whitson maintained: “We do no honor to [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s legacy by supporting policies that promote racial discrimination and segregation.” Whitson also employed racial stereotyping in race-baiting American Jews, stating: “And why should American Jews, who have a history of deep engagement with the U.S. civil rights movement, support settlements built on these kinds of laws and policies in Israel?”
  • In March 2017, HRW Research Assistant Abier al-Masri posted a series of tweets praising Basel al-A’raj, a terrorist leader killed by the IDF during a violent exchange. According to the IDF, Al-A’raj was active in purchasing the weapons used in terror attacks. Masri tweeted pictures of Al-A’raj, as well as Al-A’raj’s will, stating, “Peace be upon your pure spirit.” In his will, A’raj writes: “All the wills of the Shahids… do not quench our thirst in the search for the question of the Martyr… is there anything more eloquent than the Martyr’s deeds?”
  • In February 2013, Khulood Badawi, currently HRW’s “Israel and East Jerusalem Consultant,” was fired from UN-OCHA for posting “a bogus post on Twitter alleging that a pictured Palestinian girl had been killed by the IDF during the 2012 shelling of Gaza.” The photo, tweeted under the “Long live Palestine,” was actually taken in 2006 and had no connection to Israel.
  • In 2011, Kathleen Peratis, co-chair of the Advisory Committee of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, visited Gaza and met with several Hamas officials. Hamas is a designated terror organization by Israel, the U.S.EU, and Canada. In her article about the visit, Peratis describes her experience exploring smuggling tunnels from Gaza into Egypt with members of Hamas.
  • In September 2009, “senior military analyst” Marc Garlasco was revealed to be an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia. He was suspended and then dismissed, but his reports were not withdrawn. As shown in a Sunday Times (UK) article, “Nazi scandal engulfs Human Rights Watch” (March 28, 2010), the Garlasco issue was indicative of far deeper problems at HRW.

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